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Quarter-mile markers cost freedom

Allegedly looking out for our interests, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has decided to place 4,500 new quarter-mile marker signs along the state’s 286-mile toll road system. Although the non-tollway interstates in Illinois only have one mile-marker sign per mile, as do other states, for public safety reasons the toll authority has deemed placing markers every 1321 feet a good use of your money.

They believe that, safety-wise, adding more obstacles for motorists to hit is more than offset by increasing the ease for rescue vehicles to find you. At a time when most cell phones and many cars now have GPS and more fiscally sound states don’t see this need, the decision is perplexing.

According to Toll officials the project will cost $563,000, or $125 per sign, which are manufactured at the Illinois Tollway Authority-owned sign shop in Naperville, Ill. A spokesman could not answer my question whether the $125 included only material costs or reflected total costs. Manufacturing experts expect the $125 to only include the cost of the post, metal sign and multiple reflective paint layers. Given that manufacturing norms are an equal amount labor costs to material costs and at least 30% overhead, the cost would most likely be nearer $330 per sign if, that is, we assume the state-run plant is as efficient as private industry.

However, the signs haven’t been delivered or installed yet. The cost of the crews and equipment, including fuel, to install the signs is minimally estimated at $70 per sign. Forgetting the cost of replacing the signs broken yearly by snow crews and accidents, it is reasonable to assume the total cost per sign will be $400 plus.

By this analysis the 4,500 signs will cost $1.8 million, not including upkeep. Compared to the state’s operating budget of $33 billion, deficit of $8.3 billion and unpaid bills of $5.5 billion the $1.8 million is insignificant. The money only amounts to 18 cents per resident of the state. However, looking at it from that perspective has caused the problem the state faces today.

Let’s assume the $1.8 million in sign costs were borne by one village, Skokie, rather than the state at large and an equal amount of other discretionary spending were spread to residents of other cities. The 23,223 Skokie households representing a population of 63,348 would each be responsible for $77.00 of the $1.8 million.

Given the premise, Toll officials diminish the economic freedom of Skokie households by $77. A credit card payment may not be made, a dental checkup for a child skipped, a family night out for dinner and movie scraped or a trip to visit out-of-state grandparents will be avoided.

By the same rationale the new $20 million “El” station in Skokie adds the same dollar burden on the residents of the state’s second, third, fourth and forty-seventh largest cities (Aurora, Rockford, Joliet and Urbana, respectively). To paraphrase the famous former Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, “a little here, a little there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

In the final analysis in this mini-economic scenario the decision by Toll officials, made for whatever reason, usurps freedom. Ultimately what the state spends, whether paid for or borrowed, has a cost.

Have a fulfilling and profitable day,

W C (Bill) Augustine,

One Response

  1. Chris

    Excellent summary and is yet another example reinforcing my decision to move out of Illinois.


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